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October 16, 2017

NFL endorses federal criminal justice reform bills

I was not familiar with professional sports leagues playing a role in modern legislative debates, but this new Washington Post piece reports that the National Football League has "decided to endorse a bipartisan bill to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, eliminate “three-strike” provisions that require life sentences and give judges more latitude to reduce sentences for certain low-level crimes."  Here are the details:

The National Football League, still in political crosshairs over whether players should take a knee during the national anthem, is throwing its weight behind another cause in Washington’s debate over racial inequality: criminal justice reform.

The NFL’s spokesman said on Monday that the league has decided to endorse a bipartisan bill to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, eliminate “three-strike” provisions that require life sentences and give judges more latitude to reduce sentences for certain low-level crimes.

“We felt that this was an issue over the last months, as we have continued to work with our players on issues of equality and on issues of criminal justice reform, that was surfaced for us, and we thought it was appropriate to lend our support to it,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

The owners appear to be seeking middle ground between football players and their critics during a heated national debate over the growing phenomenon of players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.  It is not clear what effect the NFL’s effort will have on that debate — or on President Trump, who has fueled much of the vitriol against kneeling players through his personal and official Twitter accounts....

On Capitol Hill, spokesmen for the two main sponsors of the criminal justice bill, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), declined to comment about the timing of the NFL’s endorsement or whether it was intended to quell the heated debate over the players’ continued protests. Both said they welcomed the NFL’s support.

But a spokesman for Grassley added that the NFL had not coordinated with the bill’s congressional sponsors in advance of its decision.  In the meantime, no other sports league has signed on. A spokesman for the NFL Players Association did not immediately return a call for comment about whether the football players’ union would also endorse the bill.

In Congress, it is not clear whether the NFL’s endorsement will help the bill’s chances of passing.  The legislation has already earned the support of some influential groups from across the political spectrum, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Charles Koch Institute and Americans for Tax Reform.

In addition, the Grassley-Durbin bill is the result of a five-year, bipartisan effort. Last year, the duo released almost identical legislation backed by 37 co-sponsors, including 17 Republicans. Despite that, sponsors have struggled in years past to secure a full Senate vote for the bill, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refusing to bring it to the floor.

October 16, 2017 at 11:30 PM | Permalink


Why exactly do I care what legislation or criminal justice policies are backed by the NFL or their players? What expertise does the NFL bring to the subject?

Isn't this the exact wrong move by the NFL? Their core product is competitive entertainment. If they are going to talk to me about crime and punishment which I can get for free right here at SL&P, why am am paying for expensive football tickets?

Posted by: David | Oct 17, 2017 2:50:12 AM

Those PSAs by actors by such and such a cause are tiresome too. They are just there for my entertainment. Why are they talking about breast cancer, bullying, environmental issues or anything else when I can get that on blogs?

The NFL also has pragmatic interest in speaking out given the concerns of players who in an overall way don't just care about what they deem misuse of force but justice in the criminal justice system generally. The NFL's support is of limited importance regarding some bill passing here especially if the problem is debate over specifics.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 17, 2017 10:30:50 AM

Is the NFL a non-profit, with special dispensation from Congress to maintain their monopoly practices?

I suggest they stay out of partisan political advocacy, as an organization, to avoid jeopardizing their legal privileges.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 17, 2017 2:04:55 PM

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